Generally, police officers who want to search private property need a warrant. The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches, including police officers demanding access to their homes and their vehicles.
An officer cannot simply let themselves into your apartment if you rent. However, there are a handful of situations in which they can enter your rental property legally without a warrant.
During a hot pursuit
When police officers have to chase a suspect, they often need to make split-second decisions. Sometimes, they will need to access private property to apprehend the person they chase.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that police officers engaged in a hot pursuit should factor in the risk the suspect presents to the public and the severity of the alleged offense. Misdemeanor offenses may no longer justify forced entry into private residences during a hot pursuit.
When they have permission
The easiest way for the police officers to get into your home is to ask. All too often, the people give up their civil rights by granting the police access to their home, only to realize that they cannot rescind that permission once the officers are inside. Your roommate could also allow the police into your apartment, but in that scenario, they could only search the public or shared spaces, and not your private space.
When they suspect a crime in progress
Police officers can force entry into a home without a warrant or permission when they have probable cause to suspect a crime in progress. Hearing someone scream for help could give them a reason to enter. So could a flushing toilet or a paper shredder that makes them suspect the destruction of evidence.
Learning more about your civil rights can help you protect yourself when facing a police investigation or criminal charges.